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Communization and Its Discontents

November 15, 2011

Apologies for not being online more in the past while – it’s been a bit hectic…

I did want to post a pointer to a new collection, edited by Benjamin Noys and published by Minor Compositions. The text will be available for purchased from Minor Compositions from the 30th of November, but is also freely available for download. The blurb is:

Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles
Edited by Benjamin Noys

Can we find alternatives to the failed radical projects of the twentieth century? What are the possible forms of struggle today? How do we fight back against the misery of our crisis-ridden present?

‘Communization’ is the spectre of the immediate struggle to abolish capitalism and the state, which haunts Europe, Northern California and wherever the real abstractions of value that shape our lives are contested. Evolving on the terrain of capitalism new practices of the ‘human strike’, autonomous communes, occupation and insurrection have attacked the alienations of our times. These signs of resistance are scattered and have yet to coalesce, and their future is deliberately precarious and insecure.

Bringing together voices from inside and outside of these currents Communization and Its Discontents treats communization as a problem to be explored rather than a solution. Taking in the new theorizations of communization proposed by Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee, Théorie Communiste, post-autonomists, and others, it offers critical reflections on the possibilities and the limits of these contemporary forms, strategies, and tactics of struggle.

Contributors: Jasper Bernes, John Cunningham, Endnotes, Alexander R. Galloway, Maya Andrea Gonzalez, Anthony Iles, Leon de Mattis, Nicole Pepperell, Théorie Communiste, Alberto Toscano, Marina Vishmidt, and Evan Calder Williams.

My piece in the volume is titled: Capitalism: Some Disassembly Required.

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  1. Nicole,

    Can you recommend some texts that would flesh out your philosophical reference points? I am reading your dis, which I really like when you get into the specifics of your reading, except that there is a technical philosophical language employed that you never really flesh out and make explicit, but which I recognize as coming out of contemporary Pragmatist philosophy (e.g. Wilfrid Sellars, Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson’s “The Origin and Evolution of Cultures”) and its crossing over into philosophy of science (Elliot Sober, Philip Kitcher), with maybe a bit of Deleuze thrown in.

    For example:
    - Programmatic claims
    - deflationary theory of truth
    - emergent properties
    - emergent phenomena
    - assemblage
    - downstream consequences or effects
    - operationalisable
    - “cash out”
    - foundationalist

    I also therefore am feeling ambiguous when you use terms that are less strictly tied to pragmatism, like normative, contingent, concrete, abstract, subject-object, contradiction, but which are obviously equal parts important and contentious.

    I find it difficult to unpack some of the specifics of your claims as a result of not being able to get a clearer read on your own philosophical commitments. I also want to read your work in the strongest way, as I think that generally one ought to take the strongest version of someone’s argument 1) because it is a more generous and collegiate approach to a writer 2) it means that your own disagreement is not predicated on a strawman but on the most generous reading, and therefore 3) can lead to a more adequate and developed notion.

    As an example, when you write
    “Emergent phenomena are complex patterns that arise as unpredicted – but not otherwise ontologically “spooky” or mysterious – consequences of the interactions of simpler phenomena that, examined in isolation or in the context of other kinds of interactions, would not imply the potential to generate the emergent result.” (p. 17),
    this really strikes me as a kind of reductionism to logical positivism and analytic philosophy, which treat complex phenomena as the product of simpler phenomena, which I think is a very contestable claim. Is that a fair reading? I don’t know, but if not, it would be good to have referents that would allow me to read it in a stronger way.

    Or again a little later
    “It is commonplace, particularly for more Hegelian interpretations of Marx, to declare that Capital’s categories somehow overcome the subject-object divide – that they are, in the words of Postone (1996: 218) “forms of social objectivity and subjectivity simultaneously”.29 It is often unclear, however, why Marx’s categories should possess this special quality. Hegel justifies a similar claim for the categories of the Science of Logic on the grounds that the special nature of his subject matter – thought freely reflecting on its own essential nature – means that the object of his  investigation is necessarily also a subject (Hegel 1998: 44-50). Hegel’s justification holds a certain prima facie plausibility, but it is not immediately obvious why this plausibility should extend to the very different task of analysing a social process.”

    The funny thing is that when I read this, my thought was that this had to read in light of the Phenomenology of Spirit, which is exactly what you do later, an yet we were treating this overcoming of the subject-object divide differently. Postone’s claim (shared by others such as Werner Bonefeld) is that the overcoming of the subject-object relation in Marx’s work is tied to his notion of mediation, that his is not a subject-object dialectic, but a form of mediation analysis.

    In the sense used by both Marx and Hegel, mediation is not so much about what most people think of as mediation, the like rather crass idea that unions mediate the relation of labor to capital. This is a notion of mediation as some third thing between two things. Rather, the labor unions are just that form through which we can discuss a positive labor law because labor does not exist as a positive entity otherwise in relation to the law because otherwise it is merely variable capital. Or it is a relation between employee and employer as legal contracting commodity owners. Labor unions just are the relationship between labor and law as such, they are the mediation, not some third term, but the relation itself. Without them there is no relation. So when mediation comes up, the overcoming of the subject-object divide relates to the way in which the relation between subject and object is not mediated by a middle term, but exists only through the relation as such and they do not exist independently of each other. Hence labor and capital are not mediated by a third term, rather their relation is the mediation which allows each to exist.

    Richard Gunn (in Marxism and Philosophy, Capital & Class 38 I believe) argues that in fact on this Marx and Hegel are at one in rejecting the dualism of the subject-object approach because each exists only in the other, but in slightly different ways, that is, their conception of human practice, not the centrality of human practice, is where the difference resides.

    So in developing this point, even if I am doing so only briefly, I do want to explicitly develop (even if it was only in footnotes) my concepts because my point is expository here, not per se critical. I certainly wish Marx had done a little of this, but alas, that is a key point of your book, that he did not do so.

    Chris Wright

  2. I am about 160 pages into the dis and some of the language and conceptual apparatus has been developed, though again I still hope you can provide some more explicit referents (unless of course i will get there by the end.)

    Read the Communization and Its Discontents book. I have to say, a bit of a weird read.

    Firstly, I’m not sure there was much presentation, aside from 1 or 2 late essays, of the Tiqqun-style notion of communization, which made wading through the essays differentiating Theorie Communiste or Troploin notions of communization from it rather bizarre.

    Secondly, your essay and that by Alberto Toscano were clearly in some manner dissenting. However, the two of them also could not have been more different.

    Toscano made a sort of expected post-Leninism Leninist (aromas of Zizek, Badiou, and Negri) argument that communization did not answer the questions about revolution Leninism posed, without so much as a hint of awareness that maybe those questions themselves needed to be questioned and validated. It suffered from a certain scholasticism and left me a little sleepy in the way that mediocre genre fiction does as it rolls out the same tropes and plots without any novelty or self-reflection. “Of course there must be a transition! Anyone who says otherwise is an infantile ultra-Leftist! And so I have proved my point.”

    Your essay was in itself interesting, though I think after reading it twice I still feel like it was written for something else. A bit like a series of essays on Malcolm X, and then an essay all about Martin Luther King, Jr. with no reference to Malcolm X at all. Which is not to say that the question of value-form analysis was not appropriate, but I also didn’t feel like any of the communization folks developed that aspect very much here, except for some perfunctory mentions in the Endnotes article. The Theorie Communiste people don’t even seem particularly attracted to value-form analysis at all, especially with their fixation on exploitation, that is, they fixate more on surplus-value than the value-form, and definitely more on the surplus than the value. On the other side, you presented a hint of another way of looking at revolution, as a kind of process of disassembly and repurposing, but it lacked the articulation I was hoping for. The dis is clearer, but even though it has quite a bit more room to develop the ideas, I feel like you could have related your ideas a bit more to the thematic of the book.

    I have more thoughts on the idea of disassembling because it relates to Deleuzian “assemblages” and your notion of “downstream” consequences and effects, but on that I would like to finish the dis first.

    I think I actually found Maya Gonzalez’s essay on gender the most engaging, not just for the discussion of gender, but because she seemed to present the idea of what communization is and is not with a certain elan.

    “Communization is not a revolutionary position. It is not a form of society we build after the revolution. It is not a tactic, a strategic perspective, an organization, or a plan. Communization describes a set of measures that we must take in the course of the class struggle if there is to be a revolution at all. Communization abolishes the capitalist mode of production, including wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor and private property. That the revolution must take this form is a necessary feature of class struggle today. Our cycle of struggles can have no other horizon, since the unfolding contradictions of capitalism annihilated the conditions which other forms of revolution required. It is no longer possible to imagine a situation in which social divisions are dissolved after the revolution.”

    In a way, this one paragraph makes clear that Toscano’s objections about communization lacking a strategy, a tactics, and a plan miss the point. He wants communization to answer his questions, but it is looking at another set of questions. The Theorie Communiste article, for all of its obscurity, attempts to lay out why the above paragraph is a valid way of presenting the problem.

    Well, Happy New Year and all that.


  3. Chris,

    I read Toscano as saying that TC et al. argue that because the original set of questions (party, strategy, transition, etc.) were not adequately answered, they have ceased to be questions. He wants to question this, not just assume these are the right questions. He gives reasons why he thinks some of these questions are still important, not that I agree with him, I just disagree with your summary of him.


  4. Except I don’t see TC as arguing “that because the original set of questions (party, strategy, transition, etc.) were not adequately answered, they have ceased to be questions.” Their point is that those ways of posing organization, strategy, transition, etc. reflected a particular historical shape or mode of expression of the capital-labor relation and that the actual shape or mode of expression of the capital-labor relation has changed and the forms of organization, strategy, transition, etc. which grew out of that earlier shape have been superseded.

    Toscano, as I see his reading, does not address this at all. He reads it as “they were not adequately answered”, so the problem is to more adequately answer them with The Party, A Program (which expresses the strategy and the idea of the relation of party and class at any given moment), the transition period between capitalism and communism, etc.

    I don’t see that he really engages this central argument of TC or Endnotes or Dauve\Nesic at all, which would require arguing that their way of understanding capital is inadequate. His response remains entirely at the political level, and is thus just a new Post-Lenin Leninism.


  5. Yeah, I agree more with this second formulation, but it seems like Toscano is claiming that TC think these questions have been superseded, but perhaps the questions remain and they just haven’t been answered adequately. He doesn’t directly engage all their historical reasons but intimates that TCs reading of the historical evidence is selective and tendentious. His question about uneven development identifies a problem that TC recognizes but I haven’t seen them address in much detail or at length anywhere.

    I don’t think Toscano is claiming that TC argues that “because these questions were not adequately answered, they have ceased to be questions”; I think he is claiming that their position boils down to this, not that this is their self-understanding.

  6. I agree on the whole. My complaint with Toscano remains that he does nothing to justify his own claim that these questions persist and remain valid. He asserts what he needs to develop and show. In that he is no better and maybe worse than TC.

    • Yeah that seems right…I think to a certain extent he relies on the fact that 90% of his readers will probably be more sympathetic to his view.

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